So far, this is the question before House lawmakers: Did President Trump commit a high crime or misdemeanor that demands impeachment by pursuing politically charged quid pro quo involving the suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a public promise by Ukraine’s leader of investigations into Democrats including political rival Joe Biden?
Here are the highlights from the impeachment inquiry this week:
The House heard its first televised testimony from three witnesses:
- George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs
- Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, who revealed new information about the events immediately following the now-infamous July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president
- Marie Yovonavitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
The new details provided by Taylor spurred closed-door testimony from a new witness Friday: David Holmes, a political officer at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine who, according to Taylor, overheard Mr. Trump ask about the status of “investigations” soon after his July call with the Ukrainian president.
The House also released more transcripts of closed-door testimony from the following witnesses:
- Christopher Anderson, former deputy to Kurt Volker, who was the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine
- Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, who will testify publicly on Wednesday afternoon
- Catherine Croft, a State Department Ukraine specialist
Key witness walkback
Hours after saying he would take the debate to court, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — a key witness — will no longer pursue a lawsuit over whether he should comply with a subpoena to testify. He will instead defer to the president and the Justice Department, which both assert that Trump advisers have “absolute immunity” from subpoenas.
Mulvaney is the director of the Office of Managment and Budget (OMB), the office involved in the aid delayed to Ukraine, and last month, he appeared to admit, and later deny, that there was a quid pro quo between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president. Since he became acting chief of staff, Mulvaney’s OMB duties have been taken over by Russell Vought.
Others who won’t be testifying
Republicans submitted a list of witnesses they’d like to hear from in the public hearings. But House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has already rejected at least two of them: the whistleblower, who has offered to answer Republicans’ questions in writing to protect his or her identity, and Hunter Biden, the son of Mr. Trump’s political rival who the president claims — without evidence — engaged in corruption in Ukraine.
If the whistleblower doesn’t testify publicly, Republican Lindsey Graham said he “will not allow trial to go forward” in the Senate.
The White House reaction
Mr. Trump — who spent the impeachment hearings hosting a controversial meeting with Turkey’s authoritarian president — said he’s “too busy” to watch the impeachment hearings and had not been briefed about them. Yet he tweeted about them roughly 30 times on Wednesday and denied Taylor’s new information.
Meanwhile, the White House created a “rapid response” team to react to the hearings in real-time with social media posts that undermine the impeachment inquiry and call it a “hoax.”
On Friday, the White House released the summary of an earlier call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president, hoping to exonerate him. But no one had expressed concerns about that call.
Did Trump commit bribery?
Democrats, rather than talking about a “quid pro quo,” have now started saying that Mr. Trump’s alleged pressure on Ukraine to investigate 2016 election interference and the Bidens amounts to extortion or bribery. After the first public hearings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that bribery is “in the Constitution attached to the impeachment proceeding.” This change in name is likely an attempt to get public opinion on their side. People can only believe in what they understand — most Americans aren’t fluent in Latin, in which quid pro quo means “this for that.”
Shifting public opinion
According to a CBS News poll, 73% of people had already made up their minds before the public hearings started — but they’re divided. 43% of Americans believe Mr. Trump deserves to be impeached, while 40% do not. Although more Americans support impeachment overall, slightly more became convinced in the last month that he shouldn’t be impeached. His approval rating, meanwhile, has remained unchanged since July.
Up next week
Eight more witnesses are scheduled to publicly testify, including people who were actually on the July 25 call that prompted the initial whistleblower complaint and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who CBS News Legal Analyst Kimberly Wehle says is “the most important witness so far because he actually talked to Trump directly about this stuff.” Read a breakdown about next week’s witnesses here.
Wehle says it’s also important to keep in mind that “there’s a laundry list of potential high-level witnesses who haven’t been called to testify but should — particularly if Republicans are serious about wanting firsthand knowledge.” That includes former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani; Mulvaney; Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
— Stefan Becket, Grace Segers, Kathryn Watson, Emily Tillett, Olivia Gazis, Margaret Brennan, Rebecca Kaplan, Paula Reid and Arden Farhi contributed
What is corruption? Who is fighting it? Who is feeding it? Do answers to any or all of these questions – and the evidence behind those answers – justify an impeachment inquiry or the impeachment of President Trump?
That is the essence of the first two days of public testimony before the House impeachment inquiry. The questions also go to the heart of the institutional question about presidential power: Is this a new normal and, if so, what are the costs/benefits of Mr. Trump’s combative and irregular approach to foreign policy?
House Democrats said the week’s testimony revealed a presidential power run amok, a misuse that, if unchecked, would usher in a new era of presidential lawlessness. This, Democrats said, pointed to the need for impeachment as a remedy. The evidence, they said, goes like this: Mr. Trump improvised new policy in Ukraine, skirted the State Department, emboldened outsiders now under federal indictment or investigation (Lev Parnas and Igor Furman the former, Rudy Giuliani the latter) to smear a stellar diplomat (Yovanovitch) and, lastly, held a vulnerable nation (Ukraine) hostage by dangling military aide in the midst of a hot war with Russia to extract political favors (investigations).
Democrats said this amounted to corrupt intent and the traducing of U.S. national security interests (assisting Ukraine against Russia and helping it become less corrupt) for personal gain. Pelosi, aided by internal party focus groups, tried to crystallize the matter by accusing Mr. Trump of “bribery.” Bribery, Pelosi, tartly noted, is an impeachable offense.
House Republicans did not, in the main, spend much time assailing or seeking to undermine Taylor, Kent or Yovanovitch. Instead, they cried procedural foul over lack of access to the whistleblower, the Democrats refusal to call Hunter Biden as a witness, and continued closed-door depositions. Republicans said Democrats constituted “some kind of strange cult” that harbored “Watergate fantasies” of ousting a “duly elected president.”
On substance, Republicans said the Democratic allegations fell apart for these reasons: witnesses to date offered hearsay testimony, Mr. Trump ultimately approved military assistance, Ukraine never launched the investigations Mr. Trump sought, and Mr. Trump has the right to fire any ambassador at any time – and empower Giuliani & co. to do as they pleased.
Kent may have had the best line of the week: “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.” Who was on which side of that equation?
Republicans did not contest that Yovanovitch advanced U.S. anti-corruption aims in Ukraine. They did not contest that Yovanovitch had been smeared by false allegations amplified by Giuliani or that those charges ultimately led to her ouster as ambassador to Ukraine. That the 33-year veteran of the foreign service was undone by her own countrymen acting with Mr. Trump’s approval did not appear to trouble Republicans. Ranking Intelligence Committee Republican Devin Nunes said the Yovanovitch saga was a matter for human resources. Blared a pushback email from the Republican National Committee: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
Those feelings were rattled by Mr. Trump’s mid-hearing tweet accusing Yovanovitch of being an inept ambassador – a tactic Republicans would not defend, other than to say it was no grounds for impeachment. Democrats said the tweet might constitute witness tampering or intimidation and therefore spawn another article of impeachment.
Pelosi would not go that far but told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan: “He should not frivolously throw out insults, but that’s what he does. I think part of it is his own insecurity as an imposter. I think he knows full well that he’s in that office way over his head. And so he has to diminish everyone else.”
The White House also released a summary of Mr. Trump’s first call with Zelensky, an act of “transparency” that only sowed more doubts about White House veracity. The summary, which Nunes read into the record at the start of Friday’s hearing, does not show Mr. Trump mentioning Ukrainian “territorial integrity” or the U.S. desire to “root out corruption.” And yet, the official White House statement about what Mr. Trump said to Zelensky said this: “President Trump underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – within its internationally recognized borders – and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelensky and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity and root out corruption.”
The White House blamed its own National Security Council for the conspicuous gap in what the White House said Mr. Trump said and what he actually said. That ignored the true import of the discrepancy – Ukraine’s new government didn’t hear Mr. Trump say what the White House said Mr. Trump said, suggesting vital issues like Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders” and efforts to “root out corruption” may not have been Trump priorities.
More on the discrepancy front, Taylor testified that Sondland took a call from Mr. Trump the day after his July 25 call with Zelensky and that one of his staffers, later identified as David Holmes, clearly overheard Mr. Trump telling Sondland that Biden investigations were a bigger priority than Ukraine’s future. Holmes’ closed-door deposition late Friday verified Taylor’s testimony, adding to the drama of Sondland’s appearance before the Intelligence Committee next week. Sondland was a conduit to Giuliani and an active part of Mr. Trump’s maneuvers in Ukraine that concerned Taylor and Kent and helped lead to Yovanavitch’s undoing.
The first week of public hearings was a slow, plodding examination of U.S. foreign policy with allegations of corruption heavy in the air – long-standing corruption in Ukraine (and U.S. efforts to reduce or blunt it), the possibility of corrupt Trump intentions and GOP accusations of a corrupt Democratic impeachment process.
All sides said they were taking principled stands. Next week’s hearings will raise the stakes even higher. Get ready for people being pissed off.